30 July 2022

FY2023 Senate Appropriations and Outlook for Astronomy Funding

Julie Davis

Julie Davis American Astronomical Society (AAS)

In a busy week for science policy, the Senate released their twelve FY2023 appropriations bills right on the heels of the CHIPS and Science authorization legislation. The release of these bills, combined with the House’s twelve appropriations bills released in June, means we now have appropriations numbers from both sides of Congress and will move forward to the conference stage. In this post we will discuss the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bills from the Senate and briefly compare to the House bills to understand what funding might be available for astronomy in FY2023.

Analysis of the FY2023 House mark-up can be found here and here. If you want a quick refresher on the appropriations process, see our blog post from May.


NASA

The Senate CJS numbers for NASA are, for the most part, not significantly better or worse than the House numbers for items relevant to AAS members. The Senate grants the requested NASA top line of $26 billion, an 8% growth over FY2022. For the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), the Senate grants a slightly larger increase of $8 billion (+6%) compared to the House value of $7.9 billion (+4%). The President and Congress agree that the bulk of this increase in SMD funding goes to Earth Science, with Planetary Science and Astrophysics holding at relatively flat funding levels. The Senate does, however, disagree with the President's Budget Request (PBR) and House decrease for Heliophysics, instead designating a 6% increase that would be a victory for our heliophysics advocates.

However, the overall outlook for NASA astronomy funding remains anaemic, regardless of which numbers prevail during the conference stage. These budget numbers will mean some tough decisions, especially for NASA Astrophysics with potential delays for Explorer, MIDEX, and Probe-class missions. Though the Senate bill supports NASA beginning the planning process for the decadal priorities, this will be very difficult to do any time soon with a flat budget.

Account

FY22

FY23 

Request

FY23

AAS Ask

FY23

House 

FY23 Senate
NASA 24,000 26,000 8% - - 25,500 6% 26,000 8%

Science Mission Directorate (SMD)

7,610

7,990

5%

9,000 15% 7,900 4% 8,050 6%

Earth Science

2,060

2,410

17%

- 2,340 13% 2,350 14%

Planetary Science

3,120

3,160

1%

- 3,200 3% 3,210 3%

Astrophysics (incl. JWST)

1,570

1,560

-1%

- 1,530 -3% 1,560 -1%

Heliophysics

778

760

-2%

- 760 -2% 828 6%

Biological and Physical Sciences

83

100

22%

- 85 3% 100 22%
STEM Engagement  137 150 19% - 150 19% 150 19%

All values in millions of USD, rounded to 3 significant figures. Percentage increase/decrease is measured against FY22 enacted. Budget table and notes thanks in part to AIP's FYI Federal Budget Tracker.

In the explanatory statement, there are a number of interesting points conveyed by the Senate CJS appropriators.

For Planetary Science:

  • Congress continues to emphasize the importance of planetary defense after NASA's proposed funding cut and two year delay of NEO Surveyor, a space telescope for tracking Near-Earth Objects. The committee disagreed with NASA’s proposal, noting the mission implements a 2005 congressional directive to detect 90% of NEOs > 140 m in diameter, and the new Decadal Survey on Planetary Science and Astrobiology placed a high priority on NEO Surveyor. The Committee recommendation includes no less than $127 million for planetary defense 

  • The Committee expressed concern with NASA's recent delay of the announcement of opportunity and low cost-caps for the next New Frontiers mission, and expects NASA to "continue the selection and launch cadence of Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration [SIMPLEx], New Frontiers and Discovery class missions in spite of any cost pressures from planetary flagship missions or the Mars program and to include appropriate funding within the 2024 budget request." 

  • The Committee expects NASA report how it will plan investments over the next 5 years meet the recommendations of the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, including for New Frontiers and for the exploration of Uranus.  

  • Within the $488 million allocated for New Frontiers, $400 million is provided for the Dragonfly mission to ensure a launch readiness date of no later than 2027. 

  • The Committee recommends includes $822 million for Mars Sample Return (MSR). They articulated concern that is slipping from a 2026 to a 2028 launch window despite being the highest priority of the previous planetary science decadal survey, and requested a year-by-year funding profile for a planned 2028 MSR launch along with any "guardrails it has put in place to ensure that MSR does not continue to grow in cost while incurring launch delays."

    • The Committee "is supportive of utilizing a variant of the successful Ingenuity helicopter to retrieve samples on Mars if the inclusion of this technology can be done within the overall cost and schedule profile for MSR."

 For Astrophysics: 

  • The appropriations for astrophysics includes no less than $98 million for the Hubble Space Telescope, $245 million for Astrophysics Explorers, and $482 million for the Nancy Grace Roman Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope. On the topic of the Roman telescope, Congress reiterated that NASA must stay under the $3.5 billion development cost cap.
  • In a critical vote of support, the committee noted that the Astrophysics Research budget is crucial for supporting scientists and maximizing return on investment in scientific missions, granting $329 million for Astrophysics Research.  
  • A note of congratulations on the success of JWST was included along with a recommendation of $172 million in funding.
  • The committee provided important guidance language that will enable NASA to begin working towards the technology maturation program recommended by the Astrophysics Decadal Survey: "the Committee expects that NASA will provide appropriate levels of support for technology maturation to implement the Astro2020 recommendations."
  • No mention of SOFIA was made by the Senate bill. The House bills included language and guidance for decommissioning SOFIA and ensuring the continuity of infrared science.

For Heliophysics:

  • The Committee rejected NASA’s proposal to reduce Heliophysics funding, instead providing an increase of $50.5 million above FY2022. They note that "a greater understanding of our Sun and the accompanying technologies developed for that purpose will help to mitigate the hazards that solar activity poses to ground and space-based platforms that strengthen our National security, economic competitiveness, and scientific prowess." 
  • The Committee approves of "NASA’s commitment to accelerate the cadence of alternating Small Explorer [SMEX] and Mid-sized Explorer missions while also enabling a regular selection of MOs" and provides $15 million above the request for Heliophysics Explorers. 

National Science Foundation 

The top line for NSF received a generous increase in the Senate's recommendations, nearly reaching the request of $10.5 billion. The Research and Related Activities line also grew by more than $1 billion, representing a generous 16% increase. However, appropriations do not designate funding to the various directorates and their associated divisions, so it is uncertain what NSF's Astronomy Division (AST) might receive. This is also the first appropriations cycle in which the Technology, Innovations, and Partnerships Directorate (TIP) will be included. No specific appropriation is mentioned for this new directorate, so how the R&RA increase will be allocated is yet to be seen.

The Senate agreed with the PBR and the House numbers for the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) line. As noted in our House FY23 appropriations post, this is in part due to cost ramp-down as the Vera C. Rubin Observatory nears completion, but the decrease will make it nearly impossible to support work on the decadal priority Extremely Large Telescopes, ngVLA, and CMB-S4. 

Account FY22 Enacted

FY23 

Request

FY23

AAS Ask

FY23

House

FY23

Senate

NSF 8,840 10,500 19% 11,000 24% 9,630 9% 10,300 17%
Research and Related Activities 7,160 8,430 18% - 7,710 8% 8,320 16%
Mathematical and Physical Sciences * 1,750 - - - -
STEM Education 1,010** 1,380 - - 1,250 - 1,330 -
Major Research Equipment and Facilities 249 187 -25% - 187 -25% 187 -25%
Mid-scale Research Infrastructure 76 76 0% - 76 0% 76 0%
Vera C. Rubin Observatory 41 15 -63% - 15 0% 15 -63%
Agency Operations and Award Management 400 473 18% - 460 15% 473 18%

All values in millions of USD, rounded to 3 significant figures. Percentage increase/decrease is measured against FY22 enacted.

* FY22 appropriations at division level not yet available

**The budget request and House figures account for the proposed consolidation of the Graduate Research Fellowship Program budget into the Education and Human Resources Directorate. However, the final bill continues to fund the program through both the EHR Directorate and the Research and Related Activites Directorate, while allowing NSF to transfer all the funds to EHR. Budget table and notes thanks in part to AIP's FYI Federal Budget Tracker.

Further notes from the bill summary:

  • The Senate emphasizes that basic research is still of core importance to the NSF as the TIP directorate begins operations. This comment addresses concerns from the scientific community that this new directorate focused on applied science might detract from the basic science work at the core of NSF's mission.
  • On the topic of infrastructure, the Committee notes the need for "maintaining, improving, and modernizing Federal laboratories and the need to provide appropriate funding to support such activities to keep up with costs due to inflation" now and over the coming decade. It specifically calls out "astronomy assets." However, no increased appropriations are included with this observation, much to the frustration of advocates trying to pave the way for next-generation observatories. 
  • DKIST and the VLBA are fully funded by the Senate recommendation.
  • The bill summary acknowledges the Astro2020 survey, stating that "NSF is encouraged to provide appropriate levels of support for operating its current facilities, developing instrumentation, and preparing for enabling future world-class scientific research facilities. NSF is also expected to support a balanced portfolio of astronomy research grants by scientists and students engaged in ground-breaking research." 
  • The committee acknowledges the effects of the Contreras Fire at Kitt Peak National Observatory, and requests to be kept up to date on needs for reconstruction.
  • For Green Bank Observatory, the Committee encourages the development and support of multi-agency management plans and recommends funding at the requested level.
  • The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is funded at the requested amount. 

The Senate appropriations numbers are better than the House numbers for a select few items (NASA Heliophysics, NSF top line, NSF R&RA), but do not paint an optimistic picture for starting new projects and solving current budget challenges. With both the astronomy and planetary science decadals calling for large, expensive missions and commensurate grant funding to use those facilities, a flat budget is not the most welcome news. Concerted advocacy effort will be needed from the community to bring attention to our needs and push the flat budgets upwards. 

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